Alberto Contador's hopes of a third overall victory at the Tour de France seemed to suffer a terminal blow when he crashed twice on stage 9 to Chambery, and the Trek-Segafredo rider reached the first rest day in 11th place overall, already some 5:15 down on Chris Froome (Sky).
Contador has made a career out of turning around seemingly irretrievable situations – most notably at Fuente De on the 2012 Vuelta a España – but even for him, this seems a miracle too far.
Speaking at his rest day press conference on Monday, Contador acknowledged that his primary concern in the coming days will be recovering from the injuries he sustained on Sunday.
"The only thing I want now is recover and be able to maintain my form so, let's see what I can do," Contador said. "Most of you know me and know that I am quite optimistic, but now the priority is to recover and, if I do it, try to do the best I can. If so, my approach to the race will be completely different."
Asked again if battling for the general classification was now beyond him, Contador said: "If I recover the only thing I will do is to enjoy this. I think I still have the legs to do a good race."
Before the race, director Christian Prudhomme spoke of his desire to see Contador decide the outcome of the Tour even if he felt him incapable of winning it for himself. Contador was coy about the prospect of looking to ignite the Tour with an early attack of the kind that so animated the Alpe d'Huez stage at the 2011 Tour.
"We are anticipating a lot…" Contador said. "It doesn't depend on my head, it depends on my body, but luckily the injuries are not as bad as in 2014 or even last year. If I recover I'll ride in my way, which is really what I like."
In 2014 and 2016, Contador's Tours were ended prematurely by crashes, but on this occasion, his injuries are not as severe, and he was grateful of the rest day to aid his recovery.
"My whole body is aching, but yesterday I started recovering with Indiba massage and this morning at 8 we were already working on it," he said. "I'm doing the maximum because they were two strong crashes. The first was in the descent of the first great climb, when [Rafal] Majka fell in front of me at 70 kph. I can say that I am fortunate not to have broken anything and to get up. The second fall was also quite strong."
Contador had begun the tough stage with a statement of intent, sending teammates Jarlinson Pantano and Bauke Mollema up the road in the early break, but he began to suffer the effects of his crashes on the final ascent of the Mont du Chat, and was distanced by the yellow jersey group.
"When my body cooled the feelings changed and you all saw how I was in the last climb," Contador said. "In the end I'm happy to have finished the stage and now what I have to do is recover and we'll see what I can still do on the Tour."
Contador can draw solace, too, from the fact that the race's entry into the Pyrenees is preceded by two flatter stages.
"That clearly benefits me," Contador said. "But now what I want is to recover and ride the way I love to do. This situation perhaps has destroyed my GC chances completely, but on the other hand it opens a range of possibilities to do beautiful things. I don't know when, perhaps more in the last week."
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